Identify yourself: Secure your outgoing email with a digital ID and a digital signature


by Matt Gebhardt and Margaret Kavanagh

Application: Microsoft Outlook 2000/2002/2003/2013

Operating System: Microsoft Windows

With billions of emails sent worldwide each day, it’s now more important than ever before to ensure that your messages are safe from tampering. By using a digital ID to verify that you are who you say you are, you can increase your security for any kind of email correspondence, and you won’t have to worry about someone misappropriating your email messages.

To add the security of a digital signature to your Microsoft Outlook messages, we’ll:

  • Give you some background information on digital signatures and tell you how to get one.
  • Show you how to add your own digital signature to a message, so the person to whom you send the email can be certain it’s really coming from you.
  • Alter Outlook’s settings so that all of your future emails have a digital signature automatically attached.
  • Use Outlook to see the details of digitally signed email sent to you.


It can be harmful to you in a variety of ways if the email you send finds its way into the wrong hands. Just as damaging are emails containing private (or inaccurate) information about you sent by someone who’s impersonating you. However, if you use Outlook to manage your email, you can use a digital signature and ID to improve your security and privacy.

Obtain the necessary digital ID

You use a digital signature, or digital ID, to prove your identity when sending an email message in Outlook. Fortunately, digital IDs are easy and inexpensive to obtain. Two components make up a digital ID:

  • Your private key, which is stored on your computer.
  • Your certificate, issued by a certification authority (CA), which establishes your identity.

One of the most popular digital ID services available is offered by VeriSign.

To check out your other options for digital IDs, launch Outlook and do the following:

  1. Choose Tools | Options to launch the Options dialog box (File | Options in 2013).
  2. Click on the Security tab. (In 2013, click on Trust Center, then click Trust Center Settings, and then click on Email Security.)
  3. Click the Get A Digital ID button shown in Figure A to launch a Microsoft web page with details and ID options in your default browser, as shown in Figure B.




Click the Get A Digital ID button to begin the process of obtaining a certificate.




Microsoft offers you a list of several certifying authorities from which you can obtain a digital ID.

Authenticate your correspondence

When you receive an email with a digital signature, rest assured that no one has altered the message in any way after the signature was attached to it. This doesn’t prove that a third party didn’t read the message on its way to your inbox, but at least you know it hasn’t changed. Once you have a digital ID, it’s simple to add a digital signature to one or all of your new emails in Outlook.

Note: If you don’t have a digital ID, the options discussed in this article won’t work for you.

Add a digital signature in Outlook

Outlook makes the process a breeze. In fact, your digital signature is already installed and ready to use as soon as[...]

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